Friday, December 28, 2007

Age Differences: Old Homes vs. New

Of the many concerns to weigh when buying a new house, a major one is whether to buy a new one in name only: both state-of-the-art properties and distinguished older homes have their attractions – and possible drawbacks.
In making this decision, it's important to literally leave your preconceptions at the door of any home you're considering. Quality construction can appear in any era, and you just have to be knowledgeable about the strengths and problems to look for in each individual house.

Surely newer homes assure a certain measure of structural integrity, energy-efficient features, and safer electrical wiring and heating systems. They can have less wear and tear, more modern conveniences built in, an aesthetic more suited to today's tastes, and often better handicap accessibility. On the other hand, older homes can have a proven history of safety and stability, styles appealing to those looking for more old-fashioned elegance and charm, and a track record of repairs that leaves no surprises.

There are some pros and cons in which old and new houses are evenly matched. Newer homes, as part of newer economic growth, can be found in more promising areas just setting out on a boom of development (and thus presenting substantial investment advantages), while older homes can be found in more established, comfortable, and picturesque locations which have their own premium value to many types of subsequent buyers. Older homes can come with the headaches of aging structures and systems, while newer ones can be hastily made, with their own set of consequences. Old homes can harbor the health concerns of obsolete materials (like lead paint and asbestos), while new homes can include ones more recently recognized (like arsenic in outdoor wood and formaldehyde in carpets). But either can still be your dream home, and this overriding point is tied more to the intangible interests that lead you to shop for homes in the first place than it is to scientific specifics. For any house you'll want to get a professional inspection done, but in the end you have to follow your heart.

Old homes and new ones have upsides and downsides of equal weight, so tip the balance with your own preferences and abilities – personal taste, financial resources, handy-person skills, available time and long-term goals. Which is the winner of Old vs. New? If you decide carefully, either one can be the winning choice for you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Paying It Forward: How Renters Become Buyers

Nothing compares to the feeling of having a place to call home. At one time or another, however, most of us have felt frustration at seeing hard-earned money go into rent every month rather than a more permanent house payment. Renting is most people's first step toward homeownership, but what do you need to do to realize the dream of owning a home?

Sometimes, it's not the regular rent-money obligations but other expenses that are the main obstacle in saving. A whole debt-counseling industry has arisen to guide consumers in getting out from under what they owe. Smart saving – not depriving yourself, just ensuring stability and enjoyment over the longest term – involves many moves both major and simple, and can help prepare you for that first down payment.

On the simple end, rediscovering home cooking (and enjoying the leftovers as brownbag lunches) can amount to significant savings as compared to regularly dining out. On a higher level of financial planning, establishing a household budget and sticking to it – including a specific amount set aside for savings every month – can get you to your home-affording goals sooner than you might have imagined.

You may also want to meet with a counselor who can negotiate a lower rate and set a sensible structure for your repayments on credit cards - while advising you how to ease dependence on them. (This not only gets you on your own financial feet, but helps keep your credit rating intact for the very home loan you hope to someday secure.)

There are additional ways to start working toward homeownership. Some sellers will enter into a "rent-to- buy" agreement, in which part of the regular rent is considered an installment of the home's down payment, which, once built up, can help you obtain financing. Low-income renters may also qualify for federal "Section 8" vouchers which are paid to the landlord, subsidizing your rental expenses and helping you save for a permanent home.

Just as some renting options allow you to set funds aside, some types of purchases can help defray your costs even as you fulfill the stepped-up obligations of homeownership. Pooling resources with other buyers to occupy a two-family home could be one; buying such a home by yourself and renting one half of it could be another.

Even if your economics remain challenging, there are low-down-payment mortgages, and other forms of financing for special circumstances, available to buyers who meet the right criteria. Your local real estate professional can help you navigate through these options (accessing such resources as ERA Mortgage). He or she can also identify what government help might be available, and generally counsel you on your readiness to be a buyer – and on what else you might need to do to get there. If you consult the right sources and seek common-sense strategies, then your every move in the renter's world can be pointing you home.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Helpful Home: How Accessibility Features Can Serve Homeowners of All Ages and Abilities

We all need a helping hand from time to time, but prefer to remain as independent as possible. Accessible features in a home are a way of lending ourselves a hand, and staying in our own house for much longer than we otherwise might.

As more members of the baby boom generation – which comprises the largest segment of America's population – reach retirement age, many of them show a preference for "aging in place" in their own homes rather than moving to traditional elderly communities and facilities. This trend has created more interest than ever in the designing and retrofitting of homes for maximum ease of use. Heightened awareness of the needs of disabled people of all ages, and increased legislative attention to their rights, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), have also helped drive a trend which can benefit all homebuyers.

What has come to be called "Universal Design" is a set of standards for making every house a welcoming home for inhabitants of all ability levels. These include placing light switches and thermostats low enough, and electrical outlets high enough, for anyone to reach; outfitting hallways with railings and showers with grab-bars and stools; replacing doorknobs with levers; offering ramps as well as stairs, and doorways that can accommodate wheelchairs; and minimizing falling risks through secure, low-pile carpeting.

Though there was a time when accessibility was considered an obstacle to resale value and desirability, attitudes – and demographics – have changed, and Universal Design is now considered a resale advantage. This potential extra salability can be achieved through minimal effort and expense. For instance, in many cases a room can be made wheelchair-accessible simply by changing the direction of a swinging door.

The simplicity of such measures – and their popularity with potential homebuyers ® makes it equally desirable to build a new home with these considerations in mind, or to retrofit an existing home with them. No one has to feel they've turned their home into a medical facility – you can avoid this with some smart and simple methods that enhance convenience and are common sense for all homeowners, while maintaining the more intangible comforts of home, like independence and familiar communities.

In addition to the convenience offered by making these types of upgrades to a home, there are government loan programs that can help subsidize accessibility modifications. Talk to a local real estate professional about accessible-home options in any area where you may be interested in buying; he or she can also find out about financing opportunities and other ways to keep your path to satisfying and secure homeownership a clear one.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Save More Than Energy: The Cost-Efficient Home

The energy-efficient home is moving from the horizons of futuristic planners to the agenda of current homeowners.

It's not so much a matter of newer technologies – though alternate energy sources like solar and geothermal are making considerable inroads in the modern home. It's more a matter of improvements on very familiar furnishings and appliances. Put simply, these options save by losing less.

It may be well worth it to give your home an efficiency upgrade. First, you'll want to figure out what needs fixing. To identify problem areas, contact a qualified professional and get an energy audit of your home. Some upgrades are simple and less expensive. For example, one common problem is insulation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that proper ceiling insulation alone can reduce your heating bill by as much as 20 percent. Other energy draining can be solved by replacing old fixtures with more modern and efficient models. Windows, doors and skylights equipped with sealed double or triple panes also reduce heating and cooling costs, and are features for which utility companies often offer rebates.

The EPA notes that air leakage from gaps in your home's structure – holes for plumbing and wiring, for instance – accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the energy a common home uses for heating and cooling. Similar troubles come from inadequately sealed duct joints and otherwise inefficient, older heating and cooling systems. All can be repaired or replaced.

Even conventional systems such as ventilation can release enough heat from your home to cost a fortune in unnecessary bills. Upgrading these systems can pay for itself – and later pay off as an attractive resale value when possible buyers of your home want to benefit from this form of savings.

And when you're ready to go from finding the problem to fixing it, the government doesn't just supply the bad news – it provides some solutions, as well. The EPA's "Energy Star" rating has appeared on numerous products, identifying efficient appliances and other home furnishings that enable vast savings. Energy Star central air conditioners can save 20 percent on cooling bills.

Studies have shown the resale advantages of homes with lower energy costs. Look for such solutions, and buyers will be more likely to look into your home. Your utility bills, Energy Star fact sheets and other documentation can be attractive proof to present to prospective buyers.

In the short term, you can save on some of these improvements even as they enhance your home's value. In addition to offering expert advice and home-selling solutions, real estate brands such as ERA Real Estate, feature the Select ServicesSM network of national and local vendors with leading household products, often at a discount.

Consult a local ERA Real Estate professional on how to navigate the options and opportunities available for the energy-conscious homeowner. Your investment in the future can have many returns right in the present.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Healthy Home: Minimizing Household Health Risks

Indoors is where Americans spend 90 percent of their lives – 25 percent at work and 65 percent at home, and the latter is increasing as home offices become more common. So it's important to take a look at how healthy the home environment is.

Mold is one concern that has gotten a good deal of attention recently, involving possible problems with allergies, the brain and the circulatory system. Wherever there is a leak, condensation or flooding inside a house, causing housing material to stay damp for more than a few days, mold begins to grow. So it's important to clean and repair roof gutters regularly, grade your land away from the house foundation to keep water from running toward the house, keep air-conditioning pans clean, and keep household humidity low.

Radon is another naturally-occurring challenge that has become a common concern of potential homeowners. Radon is a gas that can cause lung cancer; it is present in soil and rock and can enter a home through basement walls and floors. Some states are more at risk than others, but the only way to be sure about levels of this colorless, odorless gas is to get a qualified radon inspection. When you have set this up (and decided with the current homeowner who will pay for the inspection and any abatement), make sure the test is conducted without interference, and that systems to disperse the gas from a high-radon house – such as a pipe-and-fan apparatus that can vent the gas before it enters the home – are arranged for before you move in.

Proper ventilation in general is important for any home – an adequate exchange of air from within and without, to minimize humidity and disperse possible toxins, is needed even in the most energy-efficient of structures. And you should always make sure that fireplaces, stoves, furnaces and dryers are not venting any particles, gases or other unhealthy substances into your house.

You should also be careful of everyday materials which can contain toxins (such as formaldehyde in carpets, to which alternatives are increasing), and, if your current or new home gets its water from a well, be sure to have it tested regularly. Consult a local real estate professional for help in honing in on how to make the house you seek the safest one for you.

It's only natural for buying a home to be a stressful prospect at first. But you shouldn't have to feel anything but confidence once you are living there. With a qualified real estate professional and the right advice, both phases of homeownership can be cause for celebration rather than concern.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

First Time's the Charm: Tips for Beginning Homebuyers

Buying a home in Fairfield County is oftentimes a difficult decision to begin with; the only prospect more daunting may be doing it for the first time. But by asking the right questions and considering a few simple but important issues, you can pave the way for some powerful beginner's luck.

Becoming a first-time homeowner has its uncertainties, but remember that you're not alone. A National Association of Realtors® survey says that in 2001 (the most recent year for which figures are available), first-timers made up nearly half of all homebuyers. If so many made the move, you can too.

Chances are they did it with the help of a real estate professional. Realtors® can navigate the complexities of the homebuying process, and let you concentrate on the rewards of this new experience. These professionals will tell you that there are three major points you should take into account: finding the right financing, investigating the community you're considering, and evaluating your prospective home's qualities.

Before your home-search begins it's helpful to determine what price-range you are comfortable with and get pre-approved for a loan. Many hopeful home-seekers will quit the search before they start, out of worry that they can't afford a down payment or sheer unfamiliarity with the financing process. But today those worries are often unfounded; there is an array of financing options available for aspiring homeowners of almost every income. For example, ERA Mortgage offers more than 100 different loan products, and one is likely to fit your unique financing needs.

Once you've gained confidence in that area, it's important to make sure you're familiar with the location you'd like to live in. Think about what you want in a community and how your chosen one meets these interests, including nearness to the city (or country), reputation of the school system, access to public transportation, and property values. This is another task that ERA Select Homes, is perfectly equipped to help you with.

You also need to evaluate the soundness of your possible new home. What condition are major components like the furnace, windows and roof in? Is it a house needing only cosmetic improvements which will one day pay for themselves in resale value, or structural repairs that will eat into your future profit? Professionals like an ERA® sales associates and a qualified home inspector can help you answer such questions with confidence.

Keep in mind that being new to all this does have its advantages – first-time homebuyers usually move on within a few years, so you have a flexibility that homeowners with more experience but also more burdens may not. Becoming a homeowner still poses many questions, but knowing which to ask and obtaining good guidance can help make sure you get it right the first time.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Playing It Safe: Security Measures for Homesellers

Today we're all more conscious of security, and while we can all get impatient at its inconveniences from time to time, we are often thankful for the greater worries it helps us avoid. Selling a home is one area in which security concerns are nothing new; opening your home to strangers is a natural part of the process – and so should be your own safety considerations. It's not about living in fear, but taking a few common-sense precautions so that you don't have to.

Whether or not you are using a Realtor®, you can make sure the sale stays an occasion for business and not an opportunity for crime. Remove any valuables or lock them away before an open house or other showing of your home. Never leave an answering-machine message telling when you aren't home, and never divulge sensitive personal details like your work hours – it might seem like a selling point to tell prospective buyers how quickly you can get to your job from this location, but it can also clue would-be burglars in on when to return.

Though the safeguards are simple, there are many of them to remember, and that is one area in which using a Realtor® can strongly help. The businesslike approach of a real estate agent – limiting showings to certain hours, obtaining background information on potential buyers, etc. – might be more acceptable to customers coming from a professional. And in this day and age, Realtors® themselves have to take precautions which make them all the more alert and sensitive to your own security.

Many ERA® sales professionals, for example, take care to show the home to only one group of families at a time. The set number accentuates the feeling of the Realtor® giving personal attention to your potential buyers, and also allows him or her to keep track of their whereabouts.

In addition, a common practice of full-service real estate companies is pre-approval through a program such as ERA Mortgage; such a process not only enables a background check on the prospective buyer, but also helps determine their seriousness as customers and saves you time.

It's always a relief to leave the complex real estate selling process to the experts, and now Realtors® are experts in safety measures that can also put your mind at rest. It may be the way you want to go for both state-of-the-art service and a "real" sense of security.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Getting It Right the Second Time: To Remodel or Not to Remodel

Sometimes the house that was once your dream home is challenged by the changing realities in your life. Then it's time to decide whether to change the house you're in, or just change houses.
Your family may not be the same one that originally moved in – kids arrive, or people start to work more at home, and the house suddenly seems smaller or unsuited to new needs. Or maybe your new-home search has just been taking too long, and you've decided to try and make your current one "new" instead.
This is a major undertaking that calls for serious consideration before moving forward. Are you so happy with your current neighborhood that you'd like to do as much as possible to avoid moving, or are you ready for a change of area? Can your family take the strain, and your business the disruption, of a project that will demand a significant shift of routine and even displacement of living arrangements?
There are practical considerations to add to these emotional and financial ones. You'll want to find out if the changes you have in mind are compatible with local planning, zoning and building rules. And you'll want to consult with designers and architects as to the feasibility – and approximate cost – of those changes. A related and crucial consideration is the future value of your house for resale if you remodel but still later wish to move. This is important because increasing your home's resale value through renovation is not necessarily a given.
The reason is not just that remodeling can compromise a home's aesthetics and efficiency – though this is a significant concern; rather than buying another home to suit new needs, remaking one forces you to work around existing systems (such as plumbing) and can lead to eccentric and unwieldy spaces. The consequences of the renovation working "too well" could be equally disadvantageous to you: a house that is much bigger than others near it, or otherwise uncommon in its neighborhood, can disrupt its location and be priced beyond what anyone looking in that area is willing to pay.
To make sure all of your domestic dreams are good ones, do some planning and consider consulting a real estate professional (who can help with everything from architect referrals to advice on what renovations are right for your market). This will make all the difference between building to a problem and modeling homeownership happiness.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The New Urban Neighborhood: Brownfield of Dreams?

A house in the country will always have its appeal. But lately more homebuyers are preferring the city, for reasons ranging from the sheer excitement of the surroundings, to the rescue of impoverished areas and the preservation of shrinking green space.
One prime area of urban housing growth is the type of site known as "brownfields." These are often-abandoned commercial and industrial spaces that have outlived their original uses but, with the right environmental cleanup, can be converted to housing or even entire neighborhoods. Older suburban homes and large new developments have lost none of their popularity, but for the right buyer the urban option is one worth exploring.
Clearly, urban living is not for everyone – it usually attracts single professionals and couples without children. But the lifestyle has aspects that would appeal to anyone. Two major attractions are cutting down on a long daily commute to city employment, and taking advantage of the area's cultural scene.
Convenience like this coincides with the environmental interests of both city and suburban officials: having a population within a few public transit stops or even in walking distance of work and recreation reduces automotive pollution and traffic hazards. And placing new housing in established urban buildings can slow suburban sprawl, with one study showing that, given factors such as pre-existing architecture and infrastructure, every hectare (about two and a half acres) of brownfields that is redeveloped spares 4.5 hectares of green space. Many of today's homeowners are happy to be part of such preservation, as they enjoy the more personal oasis of abundant room and spectacular views that the modern loft offers.
Of course, the same residents are concerned about the city environment itself. Brownfields can often have unresolved health and safety issues from their former uses. But new grants and other incentives to find and mitigate these problems are promising to accelerate the process of urban revival and put sellers', buyers' and lenders' minds at rest.
Even now, these spaces have proven so popular that developers are applying the term "loft" to structures they have only just built, and buyers are flocking to them. The rush is by no means unanimous - the U.S Census has indicated that three homes are still built in the suburbs for every one built in the cities. But the urban frontier is holding more appeal every day.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When a Home is Not a House: Condo Pros and Cons

Many real estate watchers can remember when buying a condominium was most would-be homeowners' second choice. These properties were considered a half-way measure for people wishing to break out of renting but not quite able to obtain a house. Now, condos are not only seen as a smart step between the two stages, but are an increasingly sought-after option in their own right.
It's not just that condos are an attractive intermediate move, though this is an important recent reality of homeownership. Condo values have been appreciating faster than those of single-family homes, making them a good start for first-time homebuyers who would like to build equity for a house purchase a few years down the road.
Condos are now viewed as a great middle ground for people at opposite ends of the homeowning spectrum: first-time homebuyers appreciate the still-competitive prices of condos as compared to single-family homes, and retirees like the convenience of condo living (with affordability certainly an attraction for the seniors and simplicity an appeal to busy young professionals, too).
A condo can keep benefiting its buyer even after they move (if they even ever want to): some owners keep their condo as a rental investment when they switch to another kind of home. Still, as with any living arrangement, you want to make sure the situation is right for you.
One big consideration is the ways in which a condo's conveniences come with certain trade-offs. As in a conventional apartment complex, most maintenance work and many other homeowner hassles will be taken care of for you, but not without expense. All residents must join an association which requires dues and makes certain decisions in concert that homeowners would otherwise make themselves.
You will want to carefully check out what restrictions apply - are pets allowed? Home offices? Can you paint and garden as you wish? You'll want to find out if the fees are within your budget, and how they might go up (for instance, to pay for any big repairs if there isn't already a responsible reserve fund). And you will want to be sure you're comfortable with the communal decision-making process in general.
You also owe it to yourself to make sure that any current boom has reached the condo complex you're interested in, with a good sales history and a promising future - and to figure out your financing prospects. Lenders give lower rates to buyers in developments with fewer renters and more owner-occupants (absentee ownership can affect both quality of life and property value).
These last two points are certainly ones in which the expertise of your local real estate professional can come in handy (ERA Select Homes is one company that has them both covered). With the right research, a condo can become not a compromise you can live with, but the place where you'd most like to live.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Doubling Your Investment: Do Income-Generating Properties Pay?

Buying or selling a house is one of the biggest decisions most people will ever make with their finances and their lifestyle. Getting the best bargain in the purchase or making the most profit on the sale give buyers and sellers so much to think about that many may never stop to consider keeping that old house - or buying another - as an income-generating property. But the rewards, in savings, profits and problem-solving, can be high.
One option for buyers who otherwise might consider home prices beyond their reach is the property that pays for itself: a house you live in part of and rent the rest of. This offers not only an obvious balance of cost and income, but perhaps lesser-known benefits in taxes and mortgage. The rental units can be depreciated over time; considered to offset the rental income, this can lower your taxes on that income. At the same time, the rent's addition to your finances helps you qualify for a larger mortgage, and investors who occupy their rental properties can, under certain conditions, get interest rates lower than those who do not. Of course you'll want to decide if the demands of being a live-in landlord are for you.
If being an offsite landlord is more appealing, you could always keep your current home as a rental after you move into the new one. Your long-term familiarity with the home's features and condition could lend a certain confidence both to yourself and your potential tenants. As with any investment property, you'll first want to calculate whether the rental income will make up for the needed expenses. (This is another consideration in which a qualified real estate sales professionals can help, with his or her knowledge of the local rental market and its prospects over time.) And of course being a landlord has its headaches too, so you have to enjoy the challenge and be ready to meet the needs.
But if solving problems appeals to you, then you may even prefer a fixer-upper to your familiar former home. With a thorough inspection to answer any questions, and a realistic budget and disciplined schedule to handle all improvements, your outlays can prove to be well worth it. Renovations can range from reconfiguring the floorplan to simply replacing a now-unfashionable d├ęcor. The attraction of "move-in" quality can draw renters who share your appreciation of state-of-the-art living but not your passion for the do-it-yourself effort behind it.
Owning an income-generating property is not for everyone, but-from younger buyers offsetting their purchase costs, to seniors easing the expenses of their retirement years - it can be for all kinds of people. Talk to a real estate sales professional to find out if rental property would be double trouble or two times the success.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Current Market Conditions

My analysis of 7,219 of the units sold in the 20 Fairfield County towns during 2006 revealed a high single family home list price of $7,595,000 and a high selling price of $7,275,000. The average list price was $531,277 and average selling price was $511,790, 96.3% of the average list price. The median list price was $385,000 and the median selling price was $375,000, 97.4% of the median list price. This shows the existance of a broad range of housing/prices throughout the towns in Fairfield County and it also proves that fairly priced properties are selling close to their asking prices. Inventory, however, is high, representing a 7.6 months supply. It is interesting to note that while the 2006 median list price increased just 3.3% over the 2005 median list price, the median list price of those single family homes currently on the market is 22.6% higher than the median list price of homes sold in 2006. Homes that are well priced, that is priced for the current market are selling and they are selling at 96-97% of list price. So this is a good time to sell a house. There is a large supply of houses from which buyers may choose and some sellers are pricing their houses fairly so it is also a good time to buy a house.